Do Nothing but Listen — Wild Sensibility

Finn barks when asking to come inside. Conall carefully clicks a toenail on the glass. That fundamental characteristic of Alaskan Malamutes – their quietness – is why I love them. They are sensitive to noise. They’re keen listeners, hearing and interpreting the most subtle sounds. I’ve learned to listen through them, paying attention when they […]

Do Nothing but Listen — Wild Sensibility

Falling update and a reminder of where I live…

I lived in San Diego for 30 years. There are a LOT of people there, a lot of doctors, a lot of hospitals, a lot of everything. Going to a doctor there — even finding one during most of my life there when I was uninsured — was not easy. And then? You wait. And then you go and you hope it’s a good doctor. I had two really AWFUL doctors back there which definitely aggravated my “white coat syndrome.” And then? You get an exam and maybe they send you for lab work and it might be two different locations for which you have to make an appointment. And then? You hope you don’t drive for an hour+, and you hope you can find them.

So… I went to my doctor today, the first time in 2+ years. The physician’s assistant is awesome, and we did our thing and then I saw my doc who is this wonderful young mom who worked in Washington, DC in an HIV hospital at the beginning of her career. I forgot that people take time to talk to each other here. My doc doesn’t have a 10 minute limit with me, and we actually KNOW things about each other because the community is so small. I tell her what’s been happening and she tells me possible causes. She looked at my bruised rib and said, “Yeah, your lungs are clear, so I’m not worried about that. No matter what it is, break bruise whatever, we do the same thing.” I asked if I could wrap it to walk the dogs and she says, “Sure, absolutely, good idea.” She makes me an appointment with a physical therapist I know and like. She explained that they had diagnostic abilities to figure out if it is a body-mechanics problem and then therapy to help me work on it.

My doc and I talked about Covid. “Haven’t seen you in a while,” she said.

“No, I figured if I was doing OK you had enough to deal with with all the sick people.”

“Fair enough,” she shook her head.

“Strange times,” I said.

“Oh yeah. I’m so happy my kids have been able to get vaccinated.” And she spoke openly about her feelings around all this, saying, “I’ve felt sad, and angry about this, people’s resistance to getting us to herd immunity. I finally had to let it go because I didn’t want to be that person, angry and frustrated all the time.”

“Yeah, me too, and I figured that it just doesn’t make sense, and I could think about it all the time but if something doesn’t make sense you can’t make sense out of it.”

“Wow. You’re right. I hadn’t thought of that. That’s true.”

Afterward, I went to get my labs in the attached hospital and and met a wonderful young woman who was also friendly and curious and open.

Then? I didn’t have to wait X number of days for results. I was just now called by my PA who says all the tests they do here look good. There are some they send out and she’ll call.

The San Luis Valley isn’t San Diego. It has some major disadvantages when it comes to health care, huge disadvantages, but it has these small, human advantages. And, though I’ve been here 7+ years, there are things I don’t get used to. I don’t think I want to get used to them. I think I always want to feel deeply grateful for the humanness of the people who live here.

Beautiful Green Stone

One of the most influential books in my life was Zorba the Greek. I didn’t want to be a “pen pusher” like the boss. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be Zorba, either, but I got Zorba’s argument about the sadness of living life without a “touch of folly.” I didn’t want to do that. Folly seemed to be a beautiful thing that floated above everything. It might bring with it terrible consequences (like the stoning of the widow in the village) but??? That’s what made it folly. Risk.

One of my other literary heroes wrote. “I would write on the lintels of the doorpost, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”)

It seemed that folly echoed through the minds and words of a lot of thinkers, thinkers who were…

Prolific pen pushers, but that didn’t dawn on me back then. I only got the song within the words without imagining their lives spent pushing pens. I didn’t think of what “folly” might ultimately mean. In my mind it was always physical folly. Willingness to fall in love. Willingness to drop everything and travel. The willingness to take a job in China. Or buy a house in a barrio. Or move to the mountains. Or or or or — the list of my follies would make a pretty big (but not very interesting) book for some pen-pusher to put together. Pushing a pen is, itself, folly. ❤

The explication of my follies… this and 3000+ blog posts…

Out of the frying pan…

Good post by someone who really knows.

Half-fast Cycling Club

and back to the COVID-19 unit. If it seems these COVID posts are coming closer together, you’re probably right.

We rotate therapy staff through there and the speed at which we rotate depends on how many of us are there at once. Last week there were three COVID Occupational Therapists all week, four on Monday. Once upon a time, there was one therapist for ½ days.

Instead of starting my week there, I ended it there. Saturday I saw three COVID patients. Two were incidental findings in patients admitted for traumatic injuries. All patients are tested on admission and isolated until a negative result comes back. These two were positive but asymptomatic. The third was sick enough to be admitted but breathing on their own on the third day and may be going home this afternoon (Saturday).

Saturday, January 8

Recommendations are in flux once again. When the delta variant…

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Tedious Quotidian Update 901.23.7.iv

I like the I-Ching. It’s beautiful and strangely wise. Yesterday, noticing blood on the floor, tiny spots, I realized Teddy had hurt himself in some minor way — or they’d killed a bird and brought it inside to eat it. I examined Teddy’s foot and found the small disaster — a toenail broken off at the toe 😦 I persuaded Teddy to let me fix it and then proceeded to clean the spots off the floor and somehow aggravated the pain in my injured ribs. I have no idea how, but there it is. It was a pretty painful day. Today is better.

Later on in the day, hurting and discouraged, I was sitting with an ice pack wrapped around my ribs. I decided to see what the I-Ching thought about this. I asked it, “What do I do now?” It said, “The hexagram is a mountain on top of a mountain, Keeping Still.”

I had to laugh. My job right now — even according to the I-Ching — is to lie low.

Yesterday I went to get the mail and coming up the street toward me was the most charming scene. A man was smiling and walking his dog, a tiny Yorkie in a sweater and a halter. I just stood there, smiling, and watched. He stopped, stayed 6 feet from me. The little dog was shy and incredibly bright-eyed and smart. We talked and, as happens in Monte Vista conversations, I learned the life story of the man and his dog. I also learned — was reminded — how this small town is. I mentioned that Madison — the Yorkie — was about the size of my dog’s head.

“I know,” said the man. “I’ve seen you. You walk your dogs around too, don’t you?”

I’ve missed walking my dogs around town, but it got too difficult with so many dogs running loose. I explained that we went out to the Refuge now. He said, “Oh that’s wonderful, you can just walk there.”

“Yeah, I said. I don’t have to worry much about other dogs.” I told him how one of my bosses had slowly lost her hearing and her Yorkie — without being specially trained — picked up on that and started alerting her to people at her office door, the phone ringing, all kinds of things. Yorkies are really smart dogs.

It was just an ordinary conversation — for here — but they haven’t happened as much since March 2020. I was smitten and I could see how — someday — I would be happy to live with a little 10 pound dog like Madison. Teddy is the smallest dog I’ve ever had.

Grim Humor on a Bright and Sunny Day

Yesterday my neighbors came over to see about installing a folding door into my studio. I am really glad they did because we talked over the options and they persuaded me to get something that is a lot better than what I originally thought. Then we sat and “visited” as my Aunt Jo would say. There was a moment when Elizabeth complimented my new glasses’ frames. She was looking at me very intently, and I somehow understood she wanted to see the scratches over my eye. I took off my glasses, and there was a moment when we were communicating without saying anything. I “told” her somehow about how frightened I was. She’s pretty stoical, and I’m pretty stoical as well; we’re both very independent. I’m 100% sure she got the whole message even though we didn’t say anything.

The conversation turned to Covid and the K95 mask. My perspective on Covid has evolved or something. I think we can be masked and boostered up the whazoo, but Covid isn’t going away. It’s going to be part of our lives forever and part of human life into perpetuity. I believe in vaccinations and being careful, but I no longer thing we’re going to “stop” it because, obviously we’re not. In some paradoxical way, we might owe something to the anti-vaxxers. It’s occurred to me that if our initial reaction had been much calmer and less political we wouldn’t have lost all those people. I don’t know, of course, but the thought has crossed my mind. But then, yesterday, as we were talking about the new advice coming out about masks and how unlikely any of us are to be so close to the face of an unknown human for 20+ minutes, Elizabeth said, “Well, I just decided that I’m going to wear any mask I want!” Elizabeth was one of the wonderful volunteer seamstresses who made masks for local hospitals in the early days of the virus.

I looked at her and said, “I thought about this when I fell. I thought, ‘I could die of a skull fracture in a fall wearing a K95 mask’.” I love my friends for many reasons, but one is that they both found that funny and we three had a good laugh.

Friends are remarkable treasures. One of the things about Covid that I deeply appreciate is the ties between people that have emerged in my life as a result. Crazy if you think that we’ve all be somewhat “isolated,” but there it is. A person can go along being a rugged individualist only as long as no one needs him/her and he/she doesn’t need anyone else. But the reality is we always need each other and we need to be needed by others. ❤

Anyway, I’m getting a device that will tell someone if I’ve fallen and can’t get up, and I have an appointment to see my doctor on Monday. I hope it’s something like an inner ear infection, but if it’s a balance problem, I’m on it already. Hopefully I will not write any more posts like this, but who knows. Time stalks all of us, I guess.

A Few Words on the “Dark” Ages

Caveat: This won’t be news to a European.

When I first ventured into the “dark ages” I thought they were actually dark ages, but I was wrong. I soon learned what they really were, an age of urban expansion, technological development, and beautiful art. Before the Destruction of the Icons during the Reformation, churches were brilliantly painted inside with stories from the Bible. Back in the “dark ages,” houses were brightly painted on the outside, somewhat like the buildings in Stein am Rhein in Switzerland. The persistent danger of fires during the high Middle Ages led many cities to enact laws saying buildings had to be made of stone.

Many city buildings had indoor plumbing and the Roman baths were still frequented in cities where the Romans had settled. Bathing mattered to people during the high Middle Ages, the “dark ages.” You can learn about this in a lot of other places, including Barbara Tuchman’s wonderful book, A Distant Mirror.

The years between 1000 ce and (maybe) 1400 ce were amazing. Of course the 14th century brought all kinds of fun to Europe in the form of the plague and the 100 years war, but why split hairs? And, during this long period — mostly during the 13th century — Genghis Khan was busy on his war of empire.

My journey began in Switzerland, just before my second visit. In 1996, I got a book I thought was a joke, How the Irish Saved Civilization. It wasn’t a joke. It was legitimate history about a world I didn’t know anything about. I was enthralled. Being Irish (ha ha) I was proud of “my people” who crossed the Channel in little round leather boats carrying books in to the benighted dark age wilderness of the Rhine Valley. So, in 1997, when I went to Switzerland for the second time I began looking for the Irishman who brought Christianity to the (I thought) backward people living in the Swiss forests. That led me to the town of St. Gallen, the library, to Basel to see the doors of the Cathedral on which is carved events in the life of St. Gall, an Irishman and the patron saint of Switzerland. That was my first peek into the complexity of western civilization and the beginning of my deep appreciation for my own ignorance.

The leader of this expedition was St. Columbanus for whom the publishing and missionary arm of the Catholic Church is named. To add coincidence to this whole amazing story the forest near my childhood home in Nebraska was — is — a community of Columban Fathers.

The adventures of St. Gall and St. Columbanus made me very very very curious about everything — and very amazed and impressed by their travels. St. Gall got sick — pneumonia apparently — and stayed in a spot that is now the beautiful town of St. Gallen. St. Columbanus and the rest of the troupe kept going over the Alps. A monastery was established in Bobbio, Italy.

Legend and fact are intertwined and researchers dispute a lot of what became the “life of St. Gall.” It’s kind of doubtful that Columbanus and his gang “saved civilization,” exactly, but still. St. Gall is said to have had a bear as a companion, legend says he tamed a bear that had been terrorizing the people all around. When St. Gall is depicted, it’s usually with a bear by his side. I relate to that, but my bear is white and is a dog. 😀

Waldemar Januzczak — a British art historian whose name has a superfluity of z’s — has done some wonderful videos for the BBC over the years. My favorite is “The Dark Ages; an Age of Light.” The best history book I know about life in Europe in the Middle Ages is Life in the Middle Ages by Hans-Werner Goetz. My point in this crepitated post is that we just don’t know much about much which is cool; we get to discover stuff, including the fact that it turns out my ancestry isn’t all that Irish. Still, St. Gall opened a whole world to me that I never would have sought. Bless him.

Falling

Last night I fell again. I broke my new glasses and bruised my ribcage. The glasses are already repaired and the rib cage is going to be OK. The important part is that I fall at least three times a year which is a lot. My thesis advisor died in a fall in 2020. Falling is dangerous and I live alone (and like it). I happened to be on the phone when I fell talking to the same friend in whose house I fell last summer when I injured my shoulder.

Of course I consulted Dr. Google who gave me a lot of possible causes but the one that seemed most likely was that getting older often results in people falling. I read some daunting statistics (falls after age 60 increase 30% and after 80 some incredible number I can’t remember). I don’t have vertigo or dizziness. It’s a balance thing. I have one leg 1/2 (1 cm) shorter than the other and a couple of prosthetic hips so, right there, I’m a hazard to myself. I also wear glasses which means that little space between the bottom of my glasses and my cheek is uncorrected. Add to that, I’ve always been kind of clumsy. I could run narrow trails in mountains without falling, but walking on the flat sidewalk could be hazardous.

I learned a lot today. I learned that as we age, our reflexes are slower and that can lead to falling. Something we might “catch” and merely stumble at 30 will pull us down at 70. That’s why most elder falls are not “caused” by anything like a carpet, rug, dog. curb, etc. We’re not “tripped up” in the normal sense. It’s true. I do not fall over anything. My fall in August was on a flat floor. I was wearing walking shoes and basically standing still.

This morning a doctor friend of mine told me about a program that’s designed to help people with this. It’s called Nymbl. I signed up and did my first “class.” It’s an app that trains the mind and body to work together based on the argument that NOT falling when a person is older is a cognitive not reflexive function. So, we have to learn. I’ve done the first day of training.

It’s very interesting. I got an exercise and a mental test sort of like the Medicare brain test thing Trump aced so brilliantly. First I did the physical exercise. Then the mental test, and then I did the two together. I got it. It’s literally training the brain to pay attention in such a way that no young person needs to.

Nymbl’s Dual-Tasking Approach

  • There are two elements to balance, cognitive and physical –While both are important, Nymbl’s technology focuses on the cognitive element of balance
  • The cognitive element of balance allows older adults to recognize they are falling and through practice, formulate a “plan” on how to catch themselves in an instant – known as their balance reflex
  • As people age, their balance reflex starts to decline, meaning their balance is now an executive function, they have to actively think about it
  • Nymbl retrains a person’s reflexive balance, combining cognitive challenges with simple functional movements together – An older adult’s brain is focused on the cognitive challenge which means their reflex has to control their body and balance. (from Nymbl website)


I saw exactly WHY I might not “remember” how to run. My body doesn’t remember; it doesn’t have that capability that it had forever. Possibly, also, it no longer has the reflexive capability of automatically taking off like a rocket, maybe diminished also by the fears that result from hip arthritis. There’s also something in this program about fear. I get that, too. I see what this app is attempting which is increasing competence. Fear of falling is terrible, and I have it. I am mostly alone. My dogs aren’t going to call for help if I need it. I don’t want to stop living on my own. That’s the point, the desperate reality of this situation.

The Truth About Falls

  • Statistics show that 1 of 3 older adults will have a fall event in any given year
  • 1 in 6 of falls will require an Emergency Room visit
  • Half of ER visits due to falls will result in a hospitalization
  • Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths for older adults. (Nymbl website)

It’s a 90 day program. We’ll see how it goes…

Horsing Around

I read an article this morning that said medieval horses were “not much bigger than modern day ponies.”

I can’t believe that this had to be researched by zooarcheologists. All anyone had to do was look at Icelandic horses, the direct, unadulterated horses brought to Iceland by Vikings in the 10th century throughout the medieval era. They are little horses. They’re great, but they’re little. And anyone who’s looked at an armory in a museum can see how small people were — not just in medieval times, but even at the turn of the 20th century. Whenever I’ve looked at medieval or early modern armor I’ve thought, “Those were fierce little guys.” I’m 5’1″. Much of that old armor is for men smaller than I am, and certainly smaller around though I’m not especially heavy. It was a different scale of human. How would a 4’8″ human in full armor get on and off a Friesian the way he would have to in battle? That and for those people horses were transportation; they had to be convenient, intelligent, responsive. Not one trick ponies, but companions.


We have such fragmented views of the past. I thought about this listening to a friend tell me about his boss. My friend was sure the guy had been in Viet Nam because he had photos of airplanes on his walls, looks to be in his 60s, etc. Turned out, no. The guy’s hobby is photography AND he’s too young for “Nam.” “I just made all that up!” said my friend. It wasn’t an illogical story, but minus some readily available facts.

Back in undergraduate school I took astronomy which I loved. For our final project, we were assigned a star. My star was E-Ori or the middle star in Orion’s belt. It’s a very interesting star actually more than one star. I had to do spectroscopy on the star and various other things and write a ten page paper about my star. Well, I couldn’t find ten pages worth of material about E-Ori (I should have tried harder, I admit it) so I wrote a fable purportedly from an ancient culture that believed the stars were the souls of the dead.

When I got my final project back, I got an A on the lab report and a mixed grade on the fable. My professor gave me an A; the lab teacher an F. “This isn’t science,” the lab teacher wrote. “Good story,” wrote the professor. And other things that boiled down to his belief that literature and history had something to tell science. His point was that IF the fable had truly been from an ancient culture, we could have learned where Orion was in the sky and where the people had lived, among other things, including that these people were very aware of the position of constellations. Those are pretty cool bits of information — were they navigators? Did they live by water? Did they live in the desert? Had the star positions changed in the intervening millennia? All kind of questions could emerge from a story like that, questions that could help scientists thought, admittedly, they wouldn’t say much about the chemical nature of the star. He tried to persuade the lab teacher to soften her position on the grade but to no avail. The question is there any such thing as “pure” science, “pure” art, “pure” history? I don’t think so.

My professor’s words really struck me. Maybe science and history are not exclusively this or that. Supposedly I’m an artist, but the more I’ve learned about the chemical composition of my paints, the more interested I am in being an artist. In the process of writing Martin of Gfenn I learned a lot about how paints were made in medieval times and THAT interested me in the whole chemistry of fresco painting. The world — human life — itself is not so neatly compartmentalized. Anyway, just my wandering thoughts this morning.

More Writing Advice (Remember: You Get what You Pay For)

Stories. Some writers don’t know when to start their stories and offer pages of irrelevant background before getting to the story. While I can’t speak for every reader on the planet, I don’t think most people want to dredge through 30 pages of preliminaries before learning why and what they’re reading. Humans are hunters and unless something is moving along that horizon, they’re likely to look away.

There’s even a fancy term for this; in medias res, which means starting the story in the middle of the action.

This advice is irrelevant if you happen to be Proust in which case you can write 200 pages or more about the lace curtains on your grandmother’s windows.